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Feb. 6, 2004

ULM Aviation Professor to Pilot Vietnam Helicopter To Be Donated to Smithsonian

Ernest Bruce, associate professor of aviation at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, will again take the controls of Huey helicopter 091 that he flew more than 30 years ago in Vietnam. This time, though, will be the last time. Liftoff from Bell Aircraft in Hurst, Texas, on Tuesday will begin the first leg of the "Final Journey Home" for the 091. Final destination will be the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

When the Smithsonian expressed a desire to display a Huey helicopter as part of a substantial new exhibit, the Smithsonian officials selected helicopter 091. It was decided that the pilot flying the first leg of the aircraft's journey to the Smithsonian should be a pilot that flew 091 in Vietnam, so Bruce was contacted and offered the honor of again flying the helicopter.

"To fly Huey Helicopter 091 again will be the thrill of a lifetime. I am honored that I have been asked to fly this historic helicopter on its departure for the Smithsonian," said Bruce.

"There are not many pilots around that flew those helicopters, said Paul Karlowitz, assistant professor and head of ULM Aviation Department. "This is the one he flew in Vietnam. That many years ago-it's something, it's quite an honor for him."

Bruce will arrive at the Bell Helicopter factory on Sunday for flight planning and briefings. On Tuesday the helicopter will make the historic flight from its birthplace at Bell to the Smithsonian with stops in different sections of the country along the way.

Delivery of the Huey to the Smithsonian is scheduled for March 19, where it will become a part of the permanent new exhibition titled "The Price of Freedom." Ceremonies are planned that day for its donation on the Mall of the Nation's Capital. Members of Bruce's company, the Robin Hoods, have been invited to be on hand for the event, a fitting tribute to all those that 091 represents. The exhibit will open to the public on Veteran's Day, Nov. 11, of this year. An icon of the Vietnam War, the restored UH-lH Huey helicopter 091 will be the largest single object on display in that exhibit.

"It is awesome that my Vietnam helicopter will be in the Smithsonian along with the "Spirit of St. Louis" and the Wright Brother's airplane," noted Bruce.

The 18,200-square foot Price of Freedom exhibit will survey the history of the U.S. military from the Colonial era to the present, exploring ways that wars have been defining episodes in American history. "This exhibition will give visitors a comprehensive and memorable overview of America's military experience and the central role it has played in our national life," said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History. "The sacrifices of individuals, families, community and nation, including the ultimate sacrifice, are the price of freedom."

The story of the 091 began a few years ago when producers of the movie documentary "In the Shadow of the Blade" wanted to make a movie about the famous Huey (UHI) helicopter that was used to take infantry into and out of battle. They found 091 in a Fort Worth aviation museum.

It was restored and put into top flying condition and was then used to make a tour during which Vietnam veterans were interviewed about their experiences during the war. The producer wanted the markings that the helicopter bore in Vietnam placed back on the helicopter. During repair, the history of the 091 was researched and it was learned that the helicopter had served in the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company called the Robin Hoods. A lieutenant in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967, Bruce was assigned to fly the assault helicopter to take the infantry into battle. The helicopters were painted on the nose with artwork that identified the name of the company. Bruce's company had a hat with a feather painted on its helicopters because they lived in the woods as Robin Hood did.

The 091 was shot down in Vietnam but was repairable. It was sent back to the states, repaired and issued to a stateside unit. Eventually it was declared surplus by the Army and donated to the museum where it was later selected by the Smithsonian to become the highpoint of a final journey for an aircraft with tremendous meaning to millions of veterans, an aircraft with a distinctive sound, what some refer to as the "sound of freedom."

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